Voting is underway in Argentina for a crunch presidential election dominated by fury over decades of economic decline and record inflation that has propelled political outsider Javier Milei to the front of a tight race.
Citizens nationwide began voting Sunday as polling stations opened their at 8am local time. Some 35.8 million voters are eligible to cast ballots and each has until 6pm to do so.
With inflation running at 138 percent per annum, 40 percent of the population living in poverty and a middle class brought to its knees, many voters are keen to see the back of the traditional parties they see as the architects of their misery.
"We need a change. The country is a disaster, really, between the poverty, inflation, people are in a bad situation," said Gabriela Paperini, 57, an election volunteer waiting for voters to arrive in the suburb of Palermo.
She said she was planning to vote for former security minister Patricia Bullrich, but her daughter was backing libertarian lawmaker Milei, who "I think is going to get a lot of votes."
Like many, she said she felt "so much" uncertainty over the outcome of the vote.
To avoid a run-off election on November 19, a candidate needs to win 45 percent of the vote Sunday, or 40 percent with a difference of 10 points or more over the nearest rival.
Milei, a libertarian economist who formed his party La Libertad Avanza only in 2021, blindsided most experts and pollsters when he surged to the front of the election race, winning a primary with 30 percent of votes.
The self-described "anarcho-capitalist" has lured voters with his diatribes on television and social media. He has vowed to "dynamite" the Central Bank and ditch the peso for the US dollar.
Political science student Agustín Baletti, 22, said he will be voting for Milei because past governments have "left young people without hope."
"Everything is already broken. Milei isn't going to break anything."
While Milei has topped opinion polls, these have not proved reliable in the past, and analysts say anything can happen between the three frontrunners out of five total candidates.
Economy Minister Sergio Massa represents the ruling Unión por la Patria coalition, the latest incarnation of the Peronism movement that has dominated Argentine politics for decades.
Having overseen the country's recent economic pains, he has been an easy punching bag for his rivals.
To woo voters, Massa has gone on a pre-election 'plan platita' spending spree, slashing income tax for much of the population in a move analysts say will only make the country's fragile financial situation worse.
To counter Milei, his government has taken pains to explain to voters what a loss of key subsidies that keep public transport and electricity, among others, dirt cheap, will mean.
The other frontrunner is the stern and tough-talking Bullrich, who has also vowed radical change from the overspending, money-printing Peronists and their strict currency controls.
Bullrich served in the government of former president Mauricio Macri (2015-2019), the pro-market leader who failed in his promise to contain spending and took out a record US$44-billion loan with the International Monetary Fund, which has bailed Argentina out 22 times despite several massive defaults.
Psychoanalyst Irene Landa, 70, said she believes Bullrich is the "most coherent" of the lot.
"Milei, to me, it would be like giving a revolver to a monkey," Landa said. "But I think people are so fed up, so tired, that they believe in what he says."